Pulling back the curtain. A new documentary centers on Britney Spears’ life and career, offering rare insight from those in her inner circle about her lengthy conservatorship battle.
The sixth episode of The New York Times Presents, titled “Framing Britney Spears,” features interviews with insiders including the Princess of Pop’s longtime family friend and former assistant, Felicia Culotta; the Jive Records marketing executive who helped shape her career, Kim Kaiman; various journalists and photographers who have covered Spears, 39, over the years; and lawyers who have had involvement in the conservatorship.
The 75-minute film takes viewers through the Louisiana native’s childhood, her days on Star Search and The All-New Mickey Mouse Club, her megasuccessful music career, her romantic relationships with Justin Timberlake and Kevin Federline, her infamous breakdown in the mid-2000s, her comeback and the indefinite work hiatus that she has been on since 2019 as she fights for control of her life and money.
In February 2008, Spears’ father, Jamie Spears, was named the conservator of her person and her estate. She has remained under the court-ordered guardianship ever since and rarely speaks about it publicly, though her attorney, Samuel D. Ingham III, told a judge in November 2020 that “she is afraid of her father” and refuses to “perform as long as her father is in charge of her career.”
The “Toxic” singer’s mother, Lynne Spears, is considered an interested party in the conservatorship, though she has never had a formal role like her ex-husband. Lynne, 65, has, however, indicated that she is on Britney’s side in terms of loosening the constraints. The Through the Storm author’s attorney, Gladstone Jones, said in a November 2020 court hearing that “Lynne believes the time is now to start fresh given the circumstances of Britney’s request [to remove Jamie].”
In the midst of the drama, Britney’s diehard fans launched the #FreeBritney campaign on social media to voice concerns about possible injustices in the case. Ingham said in a September 2020 court filing that “Britney welcomes and appreciates the informed support of her fans” as she tries to “regain some personal autonomy” during her time out of the spotlight.
Scroll down to read more from “Framing Britney Spears,” which begins streaming on Hulu Friday, February 5, and airs on FX that evening at 10 p.m. ET.
Credit: FX Networks
Britney Is ‘Capable’ of Being a Free Woman
Speaking out for the first time in years, Culotta admits in the documentary that she “didn’t then nor do I now understand what a conservatorship is.” That said, taking Britney’s age and accomplishments into consideration, her former assistant says she knows “firsthand [what Britney is] capable of.”
Jamie Was Not as Present as Lynne Early On
Nancy Carson, the talent agent who helped Britney land an Off-Broadway role in New York City as a child, recalls seeing Jamie around Britney much less than Lynne in the early 1990s.
“Jamie visited from time to time and was anxious to see this time be worthwhile so that he could justify the money that it was costing to do this,” Carson says.
Former Jive executive Kaiman, meanwhile, tells viewers that Lynne “supported” Britney’s music career while Jamie was seemingly absent.
“Her mother would do whatever it took, personally and for the family’s sake, for Britney to be a star,” Kaiman recounts. “I never talked to her father. The only thing Jamie ever said to me was, ‘My daughter is going to be so rich she’s going to buy me a boat.’ That’s all I’m going to say about Jamie.”
Credit: FX Networks
Britney Was Never a ‘Puppet’
Kevin Tancharoen, who worked as one of Britney’s backup dancers in the prime of her career, contends in the film that she was “definitely in control of a lot of decisions” while on tour.
“That idea that Britney is a puppet who just gets moved around and gets told what to do is incredibly inaccurate,” he says. “When I was involved in all of those years, we would present a lot of ideas. She would have to like them, and she would have to approve them. She was very creative. She was the one who knew what she wanted to do, and she would make that happen or her people would make that happen for her. That’s how I got hired is because she just told somebody, ‘No, I want him to do it.’ And it happened within an hour. She was the boss.”
Credit: FX Networks/Felicia Culotta
Britney Did Not Get to Choose Her Own Lawyer
Adam Streisand, a trial lawyer who specializes in conservatorships and estates, tells viewers that he met with Britney after her 2008 hospitalization when she was looking for an attorney.
“The first question I had was, ‘Does Britney have the capacity to be able to hire me? Does she have the ability to take my advice?’” he remembers asking during their meeting. “The first thing is Britney was able to make the judgment. [She said,] ‘Hey, I get what’s going on. I get that I’m not going to be able to resist this conservatorship or avoid this conservatorship.’ So, that’s a pretty sound judgment. The second thing was, she said, ‘I don’t want my father to be the conservator.’ That was her one request. She wanted a professional or somebody independent. … Britney did not want her father to be the conservator of her person, the person who makes decisions about her medical care, treatment, so on and so forth. She also didn’t want him controlling her finances.”
However, the judge on the case ultimately disagreed with Streisand’s assertion that the entertainer was capable of retaining her own lawyer, so he was not brought onto the case.
“I felt that was not the right decision by the judge,” Streisand says, acknowledging that the judge had seen Britney’s medical report while he had not. “I felt that based on my interactions with Britney that she was capable.”
Credit: Courtesy Britney Spears/Instagram
Britney Will Speak Out One Day
At the end of the documentary, Culotta says she is confident that fans will get to hear from Britney again.
“I know at some point she will tell her story. I know she will,” she says. “And I am so grateful for when that point comes, that she’s able to sit down and … everything will fall into place.”